View Full Version : Making Gardens & Landscapes with natives

mark goldschmidt
12-31-2005, 05:00 PM
I am a landscape architect in southern california, living and doing a lot of work at the base of the San Gabriels in Altadena and Pasadena. A great place for gardens, it is basically an outwash train, or pediment, at the base of a very steep transverse range of granitic mountains. Soil is granular and drains marvelously.

So it seems a great place for using natives in gardens. When working for clients, though, I can't experiment much, I need to sure that almost everything I specify will survive, thrive, and hopefully flourish where I plant them. That's the sad reason why we (landscape architects) keep going back to the tried and true and boring regulars!

I would love to incorporate more natives into our plantings, but there are many problems. First is my ignorance, even though I've been into horticulture for over 20 years there's still lots I don't know. Second is container size. I guess natives don't much like being in containers, but it's hard to convince a client that the tiny tufts of foliage from 1 gal cans are going to be big shrubs and mighty trees. I can get Q. agrifolia and Platanus racemosa in just about any size, but virtually all native shrubs come in one or two gallon. A 15 gal is kind of unusual.

Third has to do with mixing natives into a low-maintenance garden setting, rather a rustic/suburban one. Around here, high maintenance or low-maintenance means maintainable by some Mexican guys in a battered pick-up with lots of power tools, we call em 'mow & blowers'. My constant losing battle -- even with my own gardeners -- is to keep the blowers out! Well, natives should be the ultimate low maintenance, right? The problem is that we are making 'gardens' with irrigation systems.

Irrigation systems are automatic, and no one is interested in checking on drip emitters very often, so spray type and bubblers are the kind that are more or less foolproof. Lot's of natives hate being sprayed in summer. Which ones I really don't know. Does anyone have any answers?

I have some natives I use all the time, a couple of erigerons, native Heuchera, penstemons, salvias -- many things to mix with Mediterranean plantings with lavendars, cistus, rosemary, etc. and handle spray. I need to know more that are not too sensitive to sparse but regular summer spray irrigation.